Updated Mon, Apr 8, 2013 7:56 pm
Most college football players begin their freshman careers in the summer after they graduate, but for a select group of football players who enroll early, spring is when it all begins for them. By starting earlier, the players get extra time to learn Ohio’s schemes and adjust to the college level of play. It’s an opportunity that just four members of Ohio’s 2013 recruiting class were able to use to their advantage, giving them a head start on the rest of their peers who will join the team in the summer.
“Well they're going to be ahead of the game and that's the best part about enrolling early. When camp starts they're going to pick up where they left off after spring, which is going to be 15 practices, which would be halfway through camp, where the other freshman will be picking up. If they do their part and they stay sharp, then they’ll be ahead of the game,” tight end coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Haines said.
The four players are freshmen defensive backs Jarid “Rico” Brown and Dyquan Stewart from Fork Union Military Academy, freshman defensive lineman Tarrell Basham from Hargrave Military Academy and freshman Junior College transfer Watson Tautuiaki from Los Angeles Harbor Community College.
The group has been out on the field this spring, taking reps at their respective positions and overall looking impressive in the truncated spring practice session. With just two practices to go before Ohio’s spring game on April 13 at 2 p.m., the four have taken the time to get the basics down and have already started to worm their way into the rotations at their respective positions.
Haines says they’ve been fitting in well. With the early start and advantage over their peers, the four are in a good position to see playing time by the start of the 2013 season, especially considering all four play at positions that rely heavily on rotations.
“We’re going to try to get it done with instead of 4-to-6 or 4-to-7, we’re probably going to rotate 8-to-9 guys (on the defensive line),” said defensive line coach Jesse Williams in a previous interview with the Bobcat Sports Showcase. It’s the same case at cornerback.
Stewart made it clear on his reasons for enrolling early; it was all about playing time. “To get a head start, to get that extra jump on everybody else,” he said.
So far it’s been paying off. Brown and Stewart have seen substantial time in the defensive back sets, especially Stewart who plays nickel as well as corner.
“I’m learning nickel, one of the toughest spots on defense, but I’m catching on pretty well. I’ve made a few freshman mistakes, but I’m cleaning it up,” Stewart said.
The four players have all shined at certain moments, including Brown and Basham, who have had an interception and sack, respectively, during spring scrimmages. Haines acknowledges the four are incredibly talented, but it’s been learning the schemes and how to play in Ohio’s system that has been the main challenge for the group.
“It's going to be the same way when the rest of our class come in. Whether it's offense, defense, special teams no matter what the role is, they've got to learn the system, which is challenging and takes some time,” Haines said. “They've got to progress and pay attention in meetings and do everything that we're asking them to do.”
Stewart agrees that learning everything has been the biggest challenge.
“(The coaches) basically (have) just been beating me down with the plays. ‘You got to learn the plays, you got to learn the plays, you got to learn the plays. Study your playbook,’ stuff like that … Everything else is there, the speed, everything else. They’re just trying to coach me up on learning the plays,” he said.
The group is full of high motor guys, but Stewart is an exception. An impressive athlete with a knack for big hits, Stewart’s energy level is consistently higher than others on the field. Something that, while appreciated, has been one of the areas the defensive back coaches have been working on teaching him to control.
Sixth-year senior corner back Travis Carrie, loves the energy Stewart brings to the defensive backfield but admits it’s been a learning process for the freshman on the field.
“The coaches always have to tell him to calm down, settle down. He's always out hitting people and he's so excited,” Carrie said. “We're trying to get him to tone some of that energy and control it.”
Carrie, the elder statesman of the defense, has gotten to spend a lot of time with Brown and Stewart and is looking forward to having them on the field this fall. Asked if they will play this year, Carrie said he has no doubt the two talented freshmen will get playing time, thanks to the early advantage they’ve had this spring.
Basham and Tautuiaki are also likely to see playing time, also because of their reps this spring. But the competitive advantage on the field isn’t the only benefit to enrolling early. The players are also getting adjusted to all the off-field parts of college football ahead of the actual season, making the adjustment easier, according to Carrie.
Stewart said the off field advantages are key. “Adjusting (to) college is a big one. So you know the ins-and-outs of the program before they (the other freshmen) do. That way you can give them a helping hand,” he said. “So the school part I’m kind of getting used to it. I’m slowly progressing.”
The players are learning how to balance the rigors of being a Division I football player with the meetings, practices and class time that go along with it, according to Carrie, and so far he thinks they’re all handling it well. The early start will pay dividends come fall time when this group of four will already be steps ahead of the rest of their recruiting class.
“The future is bright for them,” Carrie said.